Poor Johann Pachelbel, whose Canon and Gigue is invariably lumped with Albinoni’s Adagio and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: we have advertising to thank for that and for turning those and many other pieces of classical music into something utterly trivial and cheap, which they clearly are not. Pachelbel was a friend of the Bach family (Johann Cristoph was his pupil, who in turn was his younger brother Johann Sebastian’s teacher).

I’ve always loved the Canon for its formal, predictable and yet playful form in opposition to some of the Adagio‘s more melancholic moments. It could be an illustration of a life that we long for but never get to live, one where every single experience is one of peace, tranquility, enlightening conversation, absolute love and summer sunsets.



• • •


It is at the very least curious that Tomaso Albinoni should be known almost exclusively for his Adagio, when he probably didn’t even write it himself: it seems that it was in fact a musicologist by the name of Remo Giazotto who, having found a manuscript after World War II in Dresden (how fitting) consisting of a bass line and a fragments of the violin score, actually wrote it whole. As such, the Adagio was unknown from the 17th century until after the war.

None of this should tarnish Albinoni’s competence of course: after all not many musicians of his time have had the honour of having his music used as subjects of a few of J.S. Bach’s fugues.

Slowly now:


• • •

Failing to Belong

Tony’s eyes wandered around the room and then came to rest on a beautiful young coloured woman wearing a beautiful shimmering silver chemise and a dramatically tied headscarf. Why didn’t he know any young coloured women? Why didn’t he know people who tied their headscarves in a dramatic way? He didn’t care about Bill’s success, he thought. He liked it. It was great. And he didn’t worry about whether he was missing out on life. What Tony really wanted was to walk into a room somewhere and feel like he was at home in it.

Years later, Tony would discover that writers never felt they belonged anywhere. That was one of the reasons they became writers. It was strange, however, failing to belong at a party full of outsiders.

Nick Hornby — Funny Girl

• • •


I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

Hunter S. Thompson — via Open Culture

• • •


It is said that Haydn (who died on this day in 1809) was a gentle, considerate, well-respected and generous person: this probably explains why he’s been for so long considered a second fiddle to Mozart’s genius, despite the fact that the transition from Baroque to Beethoven would have probably never happened so soon without him, and also why his generosity went as far as promoting Mozart’s work (his friend and his junior by 25 years) instead of his own.

He was famous enough in his lifetime, honoured and well-liked by all but still chose a life of quiet and introspective isolation:

There was no-one there to confine me, so I was forced to become original.

I suspect that it was this gentleness of manners that led to the one misguided decision in his life: frustrated by the love of his life becoming a nun, he made the mistake of marrying her sister, a person with no relationship to music and no notion of her husband’s work and whose letters he never even opened.

He was generous to a fault even after his death: it was Mozart’s Requiem that was played at his funeral.

Here’s a lazy Sunday sunrise as an hommage to generosity. Open the windows and play it loud:


• • •

Dots and Threads


I’ve had the incredible luck of having parents naturally inclined to confront all of their children with copious amounts of beauty in any shape or form, even if sometimes complex for very young minds. Not only was reading books, listening to music or appreciating art very much encouraged but also developing a sense of superior harmony in manners, kindness, humbleness and sense of humour.

I’m not absolutely certain that the way I’ve led my life has always made them justice; come to think of it very often it has not, but be it as it may, the dots are still here in the sense that I hope that what they meant is that our quest was never one for absolute perfection but rather for a continued clarity and modesty in bettering our ways.

They are responsible for my first contact with classical music: it was a book-and-record version of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. I couldn’t have been older than ten and at that age, at least to me, music wasn’t “classical”, “modern” or anything else, there were just two kinds of music: good music and bad music.

Prokofiev made a profound and long-lasting impression on me not the least because Peter and the Wolf is one of the few pieces of classical (or rather, “classical”) music written specifically for children. It should come as no surprise that there is an animated version by Walt Disney, which was the one I first experienced. Since it is a piece specifically for narrator and orchestra, the combination of story and music, for a child of ten, is simply too potent a fix to resist: I was hopelessly hooked.

I loved everything about it (still do) especially the way the characters are portrayed by different instruments which makes it fascinating to identify them and their dialogues throughout the music: Sasha the bird is a flute, Sonya the duck an oboe, the french horns play the wolf, the strings play Peter, the grandfather is a bassoon and the hunters Misha, Sasha and Vladimir are woodwinds and martial trumpets, their guns the percussion instruments. For a portuguese kid at the other end of Europe just those names alone were a promise of wonder. My favourite however was always Ivan the cat, played by the clarinet. I’m not a cat person at all and have always liked dogs better but that clarinet sweeping like a comfortable, gentle and familiar breeze over the music is simply fascinating. It’s not an obvious instrument to like of course and I have no other explanation to offer other than the fact that Sydney Bechet’s music entered my life at approximately the same time.

There’s a movie version somewhere which I can’t find but here’s the original book version:

Prokofiev naturally led to Fantasia, still one of my top ten movies of all time and one which incidentally made me both very afraid and very curious about Mussorgsky: listening to Night on the Bald Mountain at that age gave me actual nightmares. I don’t know if it still does because I remain a little afraid of discovering that it will.

At this point I was an addict and there was no going back.

I needed my dose at regular intervals and it thankfully appeared in the form of a Sunday afternoon television program called Young People’s Concerts, where Leonard Bernstein explained and demonstrated everything about classical music with such an apparent simplicity that to this day I still hold them as the very best way to create new addicts out of anyone, young or not. It has everything you’d want to know about concertos, symphonies, music modes, melodies, sonatas, waltzes, orchestras small and large and even jazz.

There is a DVD for sale (9 DVDs actually) and I’m sure you can find the individual episodes on YouTube (all 53 of them), but do try to watch them in the proper sequence. It will change your life, I promise.

Since then, it’s just been a matter of connecting the dots, sometimes adding new ones, making sure they fit with the existing ones in a way my parents would likely agree with even if they were new to them too.

In the end what my parents gave me, knowingly or not, is priceless: they planted a few or many dots (it doesn’t really matter how many) but more importantly they made me aware of everyone’s natural curiosity to connect them and set them alight. They made me see that beauty lies in connecting those dots in as many ways as you can with endless and gleaming threads of light.

They made me see that that’s precisely and simply where love (love, yes) is.

And it never stops.

• • •

The Phrygian Mode

This is almost too beautiful and delicate to share, given that that the internets do not take well to something that demands more than thirty seconds of your attention. Still, I need to bid you goodnight: if one hour is what it takes, well, indulge me.

Scarlatti was a perfect example of what being an european means: born in Italy, friends with Handel (who was born in Germany, but became English), life-long teacher of queen Maria Barbara of Spain (and daughter of king João V of Portugal), spent most of his life between Lisbon, Seville and Madrid and composed  an astounding 555 single-movement sonatas, all meant as exercises for the queen, who became an extremely talented pianist, his pupil for more than 35 years.

Oh the title, right. “The Phrygian Mode” is a musical mode produced by raising the third scale degree of the mode, used mostly in Iberian and Arabic music (by way of maqām Ḥijāzī) and usually foreign to the music of time, including Bach (of whom Scarlatti was a contemporary). In simpler terms, you can sometimes detect whiffs of flamenco guitar chords but played on the piano.

Sleep tight.

• • •

Loving And Liking

An astonishingly lucid essay by Jonathan Franzen on how constantly ‘liking’ odd bits on social networks can never amount to — and is probably even incompatible with — loving someone. Worth reading while  waiting for his new book.

We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery. And, since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.


We can all handle being disliked now and then, because there’s such an infinitely big pool of potential likers. But to expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected, can be catastrophically painful. The prospect of pain generally, the pain of loss, of breakup, of death, is what makes it so tempting to avoid love and stay safely in the world of liking.

(And yes, I am fully aware of the irony of publishing this very post all over the internet; I hope that, should you click that ‘Like’ button, you too will be aware of it.)

• • •

Tell Me a Story

Close your eyes and listen to the music. Imagine yourself by the water: there is soon a story unfolding in your mind.

When the music is over, tell me the story of the water.



• • •

The Life She Thought She Wanted

To her mother, it must have looked as though she could do anything she wanted to do. She could move from one end of the country to another, change her name, live on her own, sleep with whoever she wanted to without marrying them, drink tea at the Ritz, make babies disappear overnight, probably bringing them back again, if she felt like it. And it was true, she could. But it seemed to her that to take advantage of all these opportunities, she had to turn something off inside her. She had to pretend that nothing mattered, as long as she got the life she thought she wanted.

Nick Hornby — Funny Girl

• • •




From a friend, via email:

Your soul doesn’t need salvation: it’s enough to watch you play, your body, to know you’re saved.

This means so much more to me than any praise for my technique (of which I have very little) especially taking into consideration that I positively hate to see myself play.


• • •

Catlike Unctuousness

Larry was designed by Providence to go through life like a small, blond firework, exploding ideas in other people’s minds, and then curling up with catlike unctuousness and refusing to take any blame for the consequences.

Gerald Durrell, on his brother Lawrence — My Family and Other Animals

• • •

Felicities of Touch


I can’t say I am an avid reader of E. M. Forster; I read and liked Howard’s End and a Passage to India among others but maybe at too early an age to fully appreciate the wider context.

These days however a multitude of threads seem to capriciously weave a cathedral of wonder pulling me in. A subset of them is discovering that Forster not only visited Alexandria and wrote a guide to the city, but that he actually then met Cavafy, whose work he helped to introduce in England. What’s more, the guide’s introduction is written by — of course — Lawrence Durrell.

This work is something more than just a work of literary piety devoted to that strange and evocative city called Alexandria… it succeeds in being a small work of art, for it contains some of Forster’s best prose as well as felicities of touch only a novelist of major talent could command.

Lawrence Durrell — Introduction to E. M. Forster’s Alexandria: A History and Guide.

• • •

To Emote

As a person who can often go to inappropriate lengths to annoy those around me with the Goldberg Variations, I couldn’t agree more with this piece (except maybe for the Deep Purple and King Crimson bit).

We don’t talk about music enough. As someone who’s never felt he’s had the technical language at his fingertips, I feel all I can do is talk about it in whatever English I have at my command. I want to emote about how I feel. After a concert, I want to grab people by the lapels and tell them how lucky we are as a species that, out of all the hundreds of billions of us who ever lived, one of us managed to come up with the Goldberg Variations. But I don’t, because that’s not the done thing. So instead I mention that the cafe downstairs does some fabulous chocolate éclairs.

Armando Iannuci — Classical music, the love of my life

• • •


Theodore had an apparently inexhaustible fund of knowledge about everything, but he imparted this knowledge with a sort of meticulous diffidence that made you feel he was not so much teaching you something new, as reminding you of something which you were already aware of, but which had, for some reason or other, slipped your mind.

Gerard Durrell — My Family and Other Animals

• • •

The Sublation Hypothesis


The usual purpose for what I write is clarity: I’ve always been convinced that if I use the right words and the right amount of words I will at some point understand whatever it is that I need to understand and that time and practice will reveal the perfect and accurate sentences and everything will make sense.

So far, the results have not been brilliant: I can’t honestly affirm that the miles of text I’ve written (whether public or not) have put me any closer to understanding what hurts me, infuriates me or fascinates me and, with time and age, the premise that such perfect words and accurate sentences even exist at all is becoming increasingly suspect.

I do not write for the sake of the words themselves in admiration of their phonetic harmony. I find it very confusing to read an introspection that sounds like a random aggregation of fragments which the author thinks are beautiful enough on their own (normally using a, to me, very pedestrian, shallow and debatable concept of “beautiful”) and that as such they dispense with the need for any kind of structure, reasoning, message or even purpose, other than having the author being told how beautifully it is written. Yes, I am aware that poetry and many forms of stream of consciousness could maybe be interpreted that way, but poetry has its own rules: they do things differently there.

My confusion is not the result of an evaluation of pure literary value, seen that I have no authority or skill to judge it, but it is one of procedure: if the intention is personal scrutiny it seems to me that it would be better served if there was some evidence of a (even if only somewhat) structured inner dialogue.

Sadly what I often see online is easily digestible vaguely philosophical tripe, bits that you can ‘like’ or ‘republish’ without having to engage in any kind of intellectual activity which might help to elevate the mind from its comfortable state of insipid stupor: I suspect that most run away from sublation as if it were a character flaw too embarrassing to confess in public.

In their defence the prospect of being pulled into an infinite exercise in Fichtean dialectic, in permanent search of Aufhebung takes more time and effort than scribbling a few oh so beautiful words about “Love”, “Life” or “Purpose” (always capitalised) or the cause célèbre du jour, the bottom of this pit being obviously posting pictures of your cat as a sufficient statement of personal ethics or esthetics. I am not saying that it is wrong to do it but rather that I can’t see the point possibly because of shortcomings of my own.

My only certainty is that I, for myself, need to write even if often I’m not particularly fond of it, less reaching for beautiful words than I am reaching for some kind of order.

For the record, I haven’t decided at some moment in my life that writing would be the better idea: the words themselves seem to have claimed me, before I even had a memory of them and I have never discovered a way to escape them even if I usually want to. Frankly I’d mostly rather listen to music or enjoy a good meal with friends, for instance, if only the words could leave me alone at those moments. But they don’t, they never do, ever. It’s a torrent that can’t be contained.

The reasons for this are partly obvious and can be ascribed to the usual explanations: yes, I read, but most importantly I write, regardless of the value (literary or otherwise) it may have to others. I write here, on notebooks, on loose sheets of paper, on napkins, envelopes, restaurant receipts and anything that can be scribbled upon. It’s no mystery that writing lots makes you want to — or maybe need to — write more, recursive as that sounds.

I have no idea how I suddenly find myself painted into a corner, writing about why writing will help me understand writing, still dissecting words and sentences, still looking for the perfect and accurate ones, in a whole new maze of contrapuntal derivations.

What I do know is that if the only comment I elicit, from you or myself, is any variation of “it’s beautifully written”, then I’ve failed.


• • •